Free weight exercises are widely used in training because they allow you to easily choose the weight and the intensity of the workout. Meanwhile resistance bands are often seen as lesser for workouts because they may not provide the required load. We usually add them into the mix when we have no weights available.
But this idea will change everything. You see, you don’t have to choose between resistance bands and free weights, you can combine them both and the results are astounding.
Resistance bands have one big benefit in that they are harder to pull the farther you pull away. This maximal stress on the muscles at the highest point of extension recruits fast-twitch muscle fibers which, as you know, are the strongest, biggest and fastest to grow. The only problem is that the path to that peek stress is only increasing gradually as opposed to free weights that immediately hit the muscles.
On the other hand many free weight exercises make it too easy to hold the weight at the peek contraction point. For example, you can keep the barbell curled for a long time in bicep curls, or the barbell all the way up in bench press. So adding resistance bands to free weight exercises such as these makes the best of both worlds.
To combine them, think about the exercises that are easy at the peek muscle contraction and add resistance bands as the opposite force. For example, tying resistance bands to the ends of a barbell and doing bicep curls would pull it down with more force the higher you lift it up and provide you with the opposite resistance. You will not be able to keep the barbell curled for a long time this way.
So here are some of the classic exercises that can be improved with resistance bands.
As already mentioned, you can tie resistance bands to a barbell or dumbbells and provide your muscles with extra resistance in the concentric movement, especially at the peek. This is different than picking up a higher weight because you don’t feel the resistance immediately and get the full benefit at the peek – the opposite happens with bigger weights.
You can tie a band to the the barbell and the bench (or weight plates) for the extra resistance. Again, the resistance force works at the peek which will keep your muscles working even as you press the barbell up all the way through.
The same can be done with the shoulder press. This is probably the hardest exercise to adjust to with bands so make sure you use lighter weights to begin with.
Tie the bands to the barbell and the squat rack. The bands will provide the resistance even in the standing position and stress the muscles on different power curves, as you squat and stand up.
Tie the bands to the barbell and step with your feet on the opposite ends of the bands. Perform the exercise as you usually would. The bands will keep the stress on the muscles even when you lift the weight all the way up.
As you can see, adding resistance bands to your free weight exercises is easy and it has tremendous benefits. It increases the intensity substantially as the muscles have to work continuously with no resting peeks. This promotes the recruitment of fast-twitch muscle fibers which provide more muscle growth.
However, you can’t add them to just any exercise. For example, tying resistance bands to dumbbells for lateral raises would do nothing more than an increased weight would. That’s because the weights already provide the same stress at the fully extended position. So keep that in mind when choosing the exercises to improve with resistance bands.